From founding Beautypedia (a research-based skincare and makeup review platform) to launching her own label, Paula's Choice, Begoun has built a career on ‘calling out’ brands that work with unnecessary, cliched, and misleading formulas. In Instagram-age, that by no means is an easy task to do, but Paula has stood her ground, and has come to be called the 'Cosmetic Cop' by none other than Oprah Winfrey. We caught up with the beauty expert who launched her line, Paula's Choice, in India, last year, and came back with a large number of our skincare myths shattered.
Your website Beautypedia, has acquired cult status now. How did it all start?
It all started from my own frustration with finding products that could truly help skin. All the research I had done on skin care plus working as a makeup artist and skin care consultant at beauty counters in department stores spurred me to write my first book, Blue Eyeshadow Should Be Illegal, which became a best seller. But that was a how-to book based on the research and facts about how to take care of your skin; it didn’t contain product reviews and people were always asking me what products they should buy! These constant requests led to me writing the first edition of Don’t Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me. After several editions of that book it went online in 2006 and became Beautypedia.
How do you find the strength to bust myths and dispel rumors in the beauty industry?
I really don’t have the strength! It’s exhausting keeping up with the overabundance of research and dealing with the crazy claims being made about skin care products. I think it has more to do with my passion to provide people a serious source of research backed cosmetic information and I do LOVE the research! I find it fascinating!
You’re now called the industry’s ‘Cosmetics Cop’. How did that moniker come up?
Oprah Winfrey named me the Cosmetics Cop when I went on her show to discuss my first book (Blue Eyeshadow Should be Illegal) in 1984. The first time I met her and we talked about how much she loved my book she then said, you’re our Cosmetics Cop! And she introduced me like that every time I appeared on her show over the next two decades.
Fads in the beauty space are common, especially in today’s day and age. Any skincare fads and myths would you like to bust for us?
There are so many it’s hard to know where to begin but these are just a few that come to mind:
Essential oils are not good for skin. Years of research has shown essential oils are damaging for skin. The problem happens because essential oils contain volatile compounds that release their intense fragrance. On your skin, these volatile compounds trigger inflammation beneath the skin’s surface that results in an impaired barrier, collagen breakdown, redness, increased sensitivity, and skin being more vulnerable to the environment. Use these oils for aromatherapy, but keep them off your skin!
Do It Yourself (DIY) skin care is more often than not one of the worst ways to take care of your skin. The assortment of skin care recipes can include everything from honey to turmeric, yogurt, oatmeal, avocados, vinegar, lemon, grapefruit, tea, baking soda, mayonnaise, eggs, and on and on. All these should be “Don’t Do It!” skin care. These concoctions claim to be good for everything from acne to wrinkles. Not only is there no research supporting the benefit of using any of these things on your face (at least not the versions you have in your kitchen), most of these ingredients have research showing they are actually bad for skin or do nothing at all.
There is no significant difference between adult acne versus teenage acne but there is absolutely no difference when it comes to how you treat acne. The gold standard ingredients for treating acne at any age involve using a product that contains salicylic acid and a product that contains benzoyl peroxide (they cannot be formulated together), and this remains the same whether you’re a teen or an adult with acne. The only difference is that adults have other skin concerns such as preventing or reducing signs of aging (though so do teens, they just don’t know it yet). One other point, stress is often blamed for triggering adult acne but research doesn’t support this notion and empirical evidence certainly doesn’t, either. If stress directly caused acne, everyone would have acne because everyone experiences some degree of stress yet not everyone has acne. If you already tend to breakout, what stress can do is make acne worse and that’s true at any age, not to mention acne itself adds to one’s stress.
You can’t improve skin discolorations without being sun-smart. This means avoiding direct exposure to daylight (seeking shade, wearing sunglasses, a hat) and most importantly, every day of your life, rain or shine, applying a sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater along with reapplying when needed. There’s simply no room for compromise on this. Any product claiming to improve skin tone and skin discolorations will NOT work without diligently applying sun protection! Along with sunscreen, the research proven skin-brightening ingredients to look for are azelaic acid, vitamin C, arbutin, niacinamide, retinol, salicylic acid, licorice extract, tranexamic acid, and alpha hydroxy acids like lactic or glycolic acid.
Massaging your face, facial yoga, or facial exercise is bad for skin. Anything that pulls or tugs at skin causes it to sag, it’s that simple. Whether you’re removing makeup or trying to massage products into your skin or using jade rollers on your face, or moving it around to “exercise it”, if you see your skin move (especially if you really stretch it), you are causing it to sag. Anything that stretches skin up, down, or sideways eventually causes elastic fibers in skin to break down. These fibers are called elastin and they are responsible for skin’s resilience and ability to bounce back into place. Once they start breaking down, skin begins to sag!
There is a lot of talk around face masks, sheet masks, and there is a lot of curiosity surrounding the same. What is your take?Traditional face masks that contain only beneficial ingredients (and leave out the ingredients that can cause inflammation) are fine and I especially like masks you leave on overnight, but sheet masks are a total waste of time and money! These fiber, rubber, gel, bamboo, or cloth-like masks are saturated with skin care ingredients that you’re supposed to leave on your face for a rather long period of time (some recommend between 20 and 40 minutes every day), with the claim that the sheet mask allows the ingredients to penetrate better than other types of masks or products. The problem is that this claim isn’t true. Sheet masks don’t help ingredients absorb better. Skin care ingredients absorb into skin based primarily on their molecular size, and sheet masks don’t change an ingredient’s molecular size. However, even if sheet masks could help ingredients penetrate better, you don’t need every ingredient to absorb to the same level. The best products are formulated with some ingredients that remain on the surface, others that absorb a bit more, and others that absorb even deeper to repair skin cells. Bottom line: there isn’t any research showing that sheet masks work better than traditional masks or just using brilliant skin care products.
If there’s one skincare trend people can spend less on, what would it be?
There are so many, but the one that is definitely trending now are sheet masks and as I explained in the previous response, there is no reason to spend any money on a sheet mask which adds up to a huge savings over the course of a year!
What according to you is the most underrated ingredient in skincare?
There are several, but azelaic acid is definitely the first one that comes to mind! Decades of research have shown that azelaic acid in amounts of 10% or more can lessen the appearance of blemishes, help fade post-acne marks, brighten an uneven skin tone, interrupt environmental damage (especially skin discolorations), refine skin’s surface because it has some exfoliating properties, and considerably improve redness, regardless of why your face is red. Wow!
Tell us about what we can look forward to your recently-launched skincare line in India… & some of the must-haves from your line?
My Skin Balancing and RESIST Anti-Aging skin care routines are getting brilliant feedback and I’m hoping more women will embrace the benefit of a complete skincare routine (there isn’t one product that can do it all and a beautifully formulated face cleanser is an important first step for any skincare routine which often gets overlooked). Later this year, Paula’s Choice India will be launching one of my can’t-live-without products, the 10% Niacinamide Booster (I use that every day along with my 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant—which is already being sold in India). Together I love what these do for my skin, especially for really improving uneven skin tone, minimizing pores, enhancing smoothness, and even increasing hydration! I’m also excited about launching my anti-pollution and age prevention collection called DEFENSE. This simple 4-step skin care routine can prevent all types of environmental damage, including sun damage for short term and long term benefits that are hard to find from skin care products in general.
What is next for Paula?
Now that Paula’s Choice is in India, I’m looking forward to spending more time there. My husband is from Mumbai and our family is there, plus I will get to do more presentations sharing what “beauty begins with truth” really means for Indian women all over the country. In terms of my work with Paula’s Choice, I will continue doing what I’ve loved doing for the past 40 years, researching published studies about skin, skin care, and skin care ingredients; writing about what is truly best for skin and what is bad for skin, and formulating the best skin care products possible that do what they claim and feel wonderful when applied. Can’t imagine doing anything else.